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If I had made a list of dream places to visit, Portugal wouldn’t have made it. So when my friend said she wanted to take a trip with a small group of loved ones for her milestone birthday, I was surprised to hear the country was at the top of her list.

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Portugal has been an under the radar destination for some time, making it a more affordable option to places like France and Italy. But travel seems to be on the upswing. Over the last two years, I’ve noticed a good many people I follow on social media posting about travel there, with mixed reviews. Some worshipped it, while others felt a deep indifference.

I fell into the former category, happily. But here’s what you need to know: Portugal is not Italy. Italy is easy to love, mainly because she can be aggressively romantic and lusty with her demands for you to love her instantly. (And, I did.) Portugal is its own locale, and it deserves to be judged for what it is. So, as with any new lover, you have to surrender the need for comparison. You have to arrive with no expectations and let Portugal show you why she deserves your love.

Lisbon, where we were based, is a shabby chic town. It is hilly like San Francisco, and much of the city is under construction. But, five minutes wandering through a Lisbon neighborhood charmed me; five days had me in the full bloom of love.

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When I arrived, my friend Dana was already at the hotel and eager to show me around our neighborhood, called Alfama.

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The first thing I discovered is art is everywhere. It is embedded into the fabric of everyday life in Lisbon. We ventured into an area filled with graffiti, where artists were encouraged to create works of art within the landscape. It was magical.

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We stopped in the Palacio Belmonte, an exquisite hotel in Alfama. There was unexpected beauty in every corner.

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When the rest of the group arrived, we took a food tour of Lisbon. Experiencing how people eat is such a great way to know a place. We stopped at the Mercado da Ribera, which has served as Lisbon’s main food market since the 1890s. Today the market is divided in half.

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One half is a traditional market that sells fresh produce, meats and fish to consumers, as well as local restaurants and bars.

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The newer section houses the Time Out market, an awesome food hall with a dizzying array of options.

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We drank copious amounts of vinho verde (or “young wine,” a refreshing white wine as light bodied as water) and sampled many delicious things on our tour…

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…but my favorite was the most famous dessert in Portugal: custard tarts.

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The tarts, also known as pastel de nata, were developed by the nuns who used egg whites to starch their habits, which left them with an abundance of egg yolks. Rather than discard them, they created this heavenly confection. Ours were from Manteigaria, reported to be some of the best in the city. While many bakeries use margarine in their crusts, Manteigaria uses 100% butter. The good news is they are only 120 calories per tart, so when you have more than one (and you will!), there’s no need to feel guilty about it.

The beauty of traveling is you dive deep into life—and eat two or three (okay, four!) pastries—with not one ounce of guilt. You meet yourself in the sweet spot of pleasure, happy to wander for hours on end. I like who I am when I’m traveling. I begin asking myself the big questions of life.

Like, why does my laundry never look this cute?

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I loved the people everywhere we went. Sweetness abounded, and while most people spoke at least a little English—a taxi driver told me the United Kingdom once ruled Portugal, so English is generally taught in schools—they were bowled over if you tried to speak Portuguese, even if only a word or two.

I can confidently say three things: bom dia (good morning), sim (yes), and obrigada (thank you). If you are a man, people were always eager to tell us, then you’d say obrigado.

Also charming were the tiles, or azulejos, we saw everywhere. They are traditionally embedded into the architecture throughout Lisbon.

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But then again, I found mostly everything to be sweetly enchanting.

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After our first cloudy morning, I realized my hotel room faced east. The light chaser that I am, I wondered if I would be able to see the sun rise each morning.

And boy, did I.

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Each morning the sun lit me up with excitement for unexpected pleasures of the day ahead.

I can’t wait to go back.

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Bom dia, with goodness and grace. xo

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How do you name what is unnamable? I don’t know. Except, it is profound.

I find it difficult to describe it in the way I can give meaning to other emotions. My anger is full of fire; my irritation, a constant hot friction; my annoyance, ever-present and something I’d like to flick away.

But joy, instead, presents itself with subtlety. It whispers. If you are paying attention, though, you know when it is there. It passes through like a beam of light, illuminating everything, permeating every cell and hair and curve of your body. It is a resounding yes in a world full of nos.

My word of the year is joy. I plucked it from the ether, hung on the hopes of beginning again. It sounded lofty and unattainable. I tend to choose things like this because they are hard, because achieving them means I have done something. It means I am living a life and not simply taking up space.

But you cannot achieve joy, any more than you can achieve love. Nor can you possess it. It simply arrives one day, and then it leaves, sometimes all on the same day.

This summer has not felt like summer in all the ways it is supposed to feel. I’ve had exactly zero beach days and precisely the same amount of time to meander aimlessly through my city with no obligations. The things I love about summer are ones I haven’t had time to embrace.

But, in lieu of days that end with sand in everything, perhaps I’ve discovered something better. It has been a season of friendship. Of reconnection. Of community. I have found myself bonded in all ways, unexpected and humbling.

I remember the January day when I struggled to find a word, the idea of what this year would represent. I settled on joy—if you can settle on such a thing—and it felt right. Last year (and the year before that, and the year before that, and maybe even the one before that) was one long slog through emotional mud. Maybe I’d earned a bit of joy.

And then I went on with life. Every now and then I’d check my joy barometer. Nope, not yet, was always the answer.

Throughout the year, I manage to maintain a sense of wonder about the world. I look up and see clouds in wispy, angelic formations, sun rays beaming between buildings, birds playing and swooping in flight. Wonder is my thing.

But joy? Not so much.

And then, the fault lines of my inner landscape began to shift.

On the last morning of a fun birthday weekend a few weeks ago, I sat down for a meditation. Almost immediately, I was overwhelmed as gratitude washed over me, ebbing and flowing like the ocean at high tide. I felt humbled by the love I’d been shown.

I felt such deep gratefulness for the old friend who spontaneously asked if I wanted to meet for a cocktail, which turned into a fun evening where I’d felt more seen and understood than I had by anyone in years. For a generous friend I deem my fairy godmother, who gifted me with a birthday evening with more champagne and fun with a group of strangers than I thought possible. For girlfriends who make a day of wandering through new neighborhoods ridiculously fun. For co-workers who are kind and funny, always laughing in spite of the craziness of what we do for a living.

When I was done, I even felt a profound appreciation for the pigeons who take a breather from the summer heat on my windowsill.

This gratitude opened a doorway to joy. It didn’t shout its presence; it crept up slowly, kindly. Joy welcomed me, and beckoned for me to sit with it awhile. Maybe it’s always there, lurking just underneath the layers of irritation and annoyance.

I’ve wondered, how do you hold onto this thing, so blissful…yet slippery? The answer is stunningly simple: you don’t. You allow it to sneak up on you and, when it does, you let it permeate every cell and hair and ounce of you.

And then, you wait until the next time.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” — Seneca

The year that was.

Have you ever had a year so challenging it made you question everything? Where you were stripped down to the core in all ways? Emotionally, physically, professionally, and spiritually?

I began the year with lofty intentions. It was to be the “Year of Me,” where I would finally set myself on a path to being the woman I always wanted to be. My word of the year was freedom. Somewhere along the way the refrain let go of what no longer serves you took up residence in my brain and wouldn’t leave.

All I can say is, be careful of what you intend.

Why, you ask? When you set intentions, the universe will rise up to meet them. It will gather the sun and the moon and the stars in a special council meeting to figure out ways to help you get what you’ve asked.

This I learned in some epic ways. Because, people, the events that follow are not always pretty. Sometimes the special council says, Nope…we gotta tear the whole thing down and start all over again.

Crazy happened, in many ways and in multiple areas of life. The days went by, and the crazy got crazier. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, throughout the year I did my best to see the blessings in advance. To say, oh yes, here’s why this happened. I GET IT, dear universe. I’m good. 

But, actually, no. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t avoid the hard and difficult and weird by “spiritualizing” your way out of it. You cannot pre-pave the pain in the hopes of avoiding it.

The only way out is through. 

At the end of the day, y’all, you need to care for your heart’s longings. This—not a 401(k), not health insurance, not a promotion, not a corner office—is all you really need. Those other things may be necessary, but they are not a life.

But, fear gets in the way.

Fear makes us do funny things. Fear can make you build a foundation for a home in a place you didn’t know you’d end up—and exactly where you never wanted to be. Fear encourages you construct a life on shoulds. Fear leads you to the long conversation with your doctor, as I had a few months ago, where his prescription sounds like this: “You need to be committed to living a clean and pure and health-driven life, and you need to be committed to getting the crazy out of your life.”

This advice also led me to a summer of drinking rosé like it was blush-colored water. (Which, I admit, was pretty fun…but, I digress.)

Fear will also make you blind to changing things because it gets in your way.

But, here’s the deal. If you don’t deal with things, they will deal with you. You end up living a life by default.

This is not soul satisfying…nor the reason why you are on this earth.

In the end, I found my freedom. It is mine to do what I will. I end the year on a blank page, holding a clean slate, and sitting in an empty room. This would have freaked me out a few years ago. Now—now that it’s all said and done—I understand the gift for what it is. I have the freedom of a future of my own creation; I have the ability to write my own story. Joy awaits on the other side of this newfound freedom.

At the end of this year, in all its difficulty and all its toughness, I am free.

Wishing you all beautiful things as the new year dawns.

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Now, we get to begin again. Happy New Year, y’all.

xo, with love and light, goodness and grace.

Christmas is a holy, deeply spiritual time of year for me. In the cold (or spring-like warmth of this year), long days of darkness, there is light everywhere. It’s a happy time.

For anyone who has been to New York during the holiday season, you know it is a wonderland of lights and sounds and energy filled with the spirit of Christmas.

For anyone who actually lives in New York, you also know the holiday season can bring forth deep wells of rage you didn’t know lived within you.

Vulnerability alert. I often tumble into the latter category.

When I wanted to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center this year, I briefly thought about repeating my pilgrimage last year. I had to leave early for a day trip, so I got up a few hours earlier and ventured over, practically in the middle of the night. It was awesome: the hush of the early morning, just me and a few security guards nodding at each other to acknowledge the beauty. And I got great pictures—with no people in them.

But this year, I valued sleep more than the peace of sightseeing undisturbed.

Instead, I flung myself into the belly of the beast on a random weekday. In order to keep living in the city I love so much, I’m making peace with the fact I need to coexist with the millions of people who come to visit. Being among people (sometimes people who are rude and pushy or worse, oblivious that locals don’t function at their (enviably) slow and unhurried pace) has become my spiritual practice of sorts. There are over seven billion people in the world, so I should be able to function properly among 50,000 of them. All the yoga and meditation in the world doesn’t matter if I can’t bring some zen off the mat and into the everyday.

So I pushed myself into the world of Christmas and I managed to function like a normal human being.

And, the tree did not disappoint.

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Wishing you a beautiful holiday season where you find ways to coexist peacefully with the situations you find challenging, and may you find beauty and light everywhere.

xo, with goodness and grace.

I have inspiration block.

It’s like writer’s block, but worse. I don’t really want to write. I don’t really want to snap photos. If I were honest, I just want to pick up my phone and aimlessly swipe. Swipe. Swipe. It’s mindless and strangely meditative. And it’s exactly what feels good right now.

Now, ever the picky Pollyanna, I’ve become swipe selective. Facebook is too full of political opinions and missing children and awful things you don’t want to know about your friends. Twitter, with all the news in my feed, reminds me of everything I don’t want to think about. All those dating apps? I literally can’t even.

No. I want Instagram. Pretty pictures. Pretty posed pictures pretending to be snapshots of a real life. Pretty pictures move my mind away from current events and crazy people.

So I swipe. Swipe, swipe, swipe.

But here’s the thing. When inspiration is napping, it’s important to keep moving. All of you, not just your fingers. You may want to give up, to think this is how it all goes down, that creativity and grace and beauty are gone for good.

Instead, find the courage to walk and walk and walk, and little clues suddenly litter the pathway. Answers—and inspiration—maybe, just maybe, find the way to the rightful owner.

Maybe they were always there, waiting to be discovered.

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That’s my goodness of the week.

xo, with goodness and grace.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes there just are no words.

When the unimaginable happens—as it did in Paris, and Beirut, and Baghdad, and Kenya, last week—sometimes all you can do is to fall to your knees and ask for mercy for the whole of humanity. Sometimes things don’t make sense.

So, there are no words.

When I first heard the news of the Paris attacks, in the early stages of its unfolding, I was horrified. On my way to a workout, I thought of a picture I’d taken the evening before on my way to an event with a friend. I posted it on my personal Instagram page, with a caption that was heartfelt, and then I went to class.

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After class, I began to worry I’d gone wrong in posting that. Even now I feel awfully vulnerable posting it here. It was how I felt, but I began to wonder if it wasn’t appropriate. Perhaps it was too soon to try to see the good in something so clearly not good. The perils of social media—sometimes your heart is in the right place, but you don’t always hit the right note.

I left it up anyway.

Because, here’s the thing. I choose to believe life—in all of its complexities and awfulness and heartache and things we cannot ever understand—at its core is beautiful. The outpouring of love and concern and support around the world demonstrated the good in spite of the bad. It is not right we have to witness parents explain what happened to their children, but there is an inescapable hopefulness in watching a father tell his young son the flowers people were placing on the sidewalk were to combat guns. Flowers fight guns.

Sometimes goodness is complicated. But in spite of it all, I do believe there still is beauty in life.

And, somehow, the next morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that, the sun comes out again.

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That is grace.

xo, with goodness and grace.

I err on the side of being a Pollyanna. It’s my nature, to try to see the positive in everything. And sometimes, I know, it can be annoying.

But, this year. This year has been hard, y’all. When you are being stripped down to the core, when you are sitting in the muddiest of mud pits, let me tell you, it’s hard to see the world through those rosy lenses.

Still, it happens. I’ve been blessed with moments, in the middle of darkness, that help me to see there is always light.

This week, I found beauty in the unlikeliest of places.

Basically, everything I need to know about life, I’ve learned on a SoulCycle bike. Things like…the hill makes you stronger; keep climbing. When you need to sit down, let yourself recover. When you lose your way, just move to the beat. When you think you cannot turn up the resistance higher, try a little more. When it gets too hard and you think you can’t go any farther, keep going. And when you keep going, you will be surprised at your own strength.

And so on.

I tend to take the same instructors week after week, mainly because I love their energy. Energy, I’ve learned, is the key to so many things in life.

Before class at the end of the week, I chided myself for not canceling it. I was tired and wanted nothing more than to go home and hang on my couch. But I showed up anyway. SoulCycle taught me that.

As class started, I found myself worried about keeping up. I became concerned about not having eaten enough. I felt a vague hunger. I was mentally exhausted.

And then, my energy shifted. Suddenly, I was happy to be there and in my body and in that moment. The music was loud, and as I cycled and moved with the choreography, I felt grateful for it all.

I had one of those moments where everything felt right. I felt happy. Genuinely, deep into my core, happy. I looked around and could feel the joy pulsating through the room. I thought, life can be so beautiful.

And then the disco lights came on. Seriously.  I mean…you can’t not be happy with colored disco lights spinning around the room.

There, in the middle of 60-something sweaty people, I found my center.

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And it was beautiful.

xo, with goodness and grace.

Sometimes I forget how restorative my city can be. To have a few weekdays to wander is a luxury, and one I don’t have often enough.

There’s so much hustle all around, so much energy and movement. But then you find places where stillness exists, and it stills you, too.

Want to see some of those places?

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Too much fall? Maybe. But let’s just go with it.

xo, with goodness and grace.

So much sweetness.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked about fall. I’ve come to see what a beautiful metaphor it is for shedding all the things not serving a purpose any longer. The leaves fall, releasing all that needs to be pruned away. And life follows suit.

I understand that now.

This year has been a series of endings. To outmoded ways of thinking, to worn out routines, to almost everything that has become familiar, including some relationships. This year has offered up a tough and often confusing mix of situations, with one just coming to a conclusion.

So much sweetness.  

This is what keeps playing in my head, like the chorus of a song with an unforgettable hook.

Here’s the beautiful thing. Whenever I thought I’ve been alone, completely adrift and on my own, I’ve been met with support. At times it was almost as if people fell out of bushes to give me messages of encouragement. Grace, somehow, in the sweetest of ways, has always been at my side. For this, I feel humbled and grateful.

Trust. This is what I’ve learned.

Trust in the unexpected and the unknown. Trust people—even, perhaps especially, people you never imagined—will stand in front of you with offerings of friendship and love. Trust, and the universe will rise up to catch you when you stumble, to push you when you think you cannot get up, to hold your hand when you are in need tenderness.

So much sweetness. 

That gives me faith in a future full of things that will serve me well.

One day I came out of the subway and was greeted by this sidewalk chalk inspiration. Signs are everywhere.

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xo, with goodness and grace.

 

This past weekend, an event called Open House New York gave access to a multitude of buildings across the city, including one right in my neighborhood. I look at the Ford Foundation every day, quite literally. I see it and wonder two things: what do people do in there, and what does it look like?

According to their website, the foundation’s goals are to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement.

Which I translate to mean—I’m seriously underachieving.

As I wandered around the 11th floor of the building, admiring the architecture and beautiful views of the East River, I was surprised to also see artwork from Nelson Mandela. I hadn’t known he was an artist. (How often I am surprised by what I don’t know. Isn’t that a beautiful thing, to still have so much to learn?)

Called The Struggle Series, the artwork is a study of his hands.

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What’s interesting is as I stood looking over these works, I felt a deep connection to each one.  Though they tell the tale of his life— struggle, imprisonment, freedom, unity, future—I understood how each was applicable to stages in all of our lives.

This is the essence of art; it binds us together with a common ground. We may not be literally imprisoned, but so many things can hold us captive.

These were my two favorites:

Freedom.

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Have I mentioned freedom is my word of the year? Let go of what no longer serves you.

And, future.

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The future holds promise.  As Mandela writes, “…now we look to the future, knowing that even if age makes us wiser guides, it is the youth that reminds us of love, of trust and of the value of life.”

Such a beautiful sentiment.

xo, with goodness and grace.

 

And now, a short post to completely (okay, kinda sorta) contradict parts of my last post.

I was walking back to the office after my usual afternoon walk when I noticed the leaves in the neighborhood had suddenly begun their seasonal change. I stood under one tree and looked up. The sun kept playing in between the branches, its light making me feel as if I were under a blanket of illuminated gold.

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And for a moment, I fell for fall.

Just a moment. 🙂

xo, with goodness and grace.

How many years, in October, like clockwork, can a person proclaim she doesn’t like fall?

I know, I know. You’re going to ask me why. Why have I not fallen in love with your favorite season? You’re going to tell me how much you love Pumpkin Spice Lattes (nope, don’t like them), and chilly mornings (nope, not ready for them), and how you cannot wait for the snow that comes after autumn (nope, nope, and nope). I get it. You love fall.

If I could have two springs and two summers a year, I would be a happy girl.

There have been years where I did my best to embrace the change of season, where I allowed myself to be in awe of the beauty of trees ready to let go and shed their layers. But this year the chill came much too soon and the light began to fade much too early.

I feel the change in the air. I know it has arrived, and I am not ready.

I’m working on this.

But then I kept seeing this in my social media feeds.

 

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And this changed everything.

It’s a reminder of my mantra this year. Let go of what no longer serves you.

And so I do.  Just like the trees.

xo, with goodness and grace.

 

So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

— Elizabeth Gilbert

A few days ago I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak on her book tour promoting her latest work, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. The quote above, from the book, acknowledges how brave one must be to embark on any creative pursuit.  It takes courage to get out of your own way and and just do the thing you are called to do.

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I’ve come to love hearing her speak, all full of humor and wisdom and the realness of your best friend. So many of us fake our way through life, pretending it’s all good and life is as perfect as what we like to portray on Instagram. (And yet, we still long for more.) She somehow conveys it’s okay to be messy and imperfect, as long as you show up for yourself.

Her book Eat Pray Love was changed the way I thought about my life. It’s kind of a cliche at this point, isn’t it—a woman proclaiming a deep love for that book? But you have to let your soul be moved by whatever resonates.

Because of this book I began to own up to my own writing aspirations. Because of it, I knew I ached for devotion to something, even if it was as simple as finding beauty in this world.

Because of it, I knew I wasn’t some insane person who had traveled to Rome and eaten gelato four times in one day.

Because of it, I knew I wasn’t alone in longing for some unknown thing that kept tugging at my soul.

Because of it, I knew it was okay to go searching for that unknown thing, even if it was in the mundanity of my everyday life.

Because of it, I knew I wasn’t alone in wanting something more.

And for that I say, thank you Elizabeth Gilbert.

xo, with goodness and grace.

You may have noticed my absence last week. First I felt a little rundown. Then my throat felt funny. Then it was on fire. Then I got sniffly.

Before I knew it, y’all, I was down for the count. I actually, no joke, slept for the better part of 48 hours.

Life lesson #1: You can’t blog about what was good that week when you can barely lift your head off the pillow. So the goodness of week 37 was, I felt crappy and I rested and then I felt (mostly) better.

Now, onto week 38.

Imagine you’ve had a full weekend—when you haven’t fully recovered from the flu-ish thing you had—and after spending a beautiful morning with friends, you go home and take a nap. The nap feels so cozy and warm you want to stay in that space the rest of the day. But you can’t.

Because you signed up for some crazy yoga thing downtown.

So you make the trek to the southernmost part of the city to a helipad, which is a little inlet where helicopters take off and land throughout the day. This is where you will do SoundOff Yoga, or a class where everyone wears headphones, so you have music and the instructor’s voice piped directly into your ears. Actually there are two yoga instructors, both lovely spirits: Elena Brower and Jennifer Pansa.

The class begins as the sun begins to set, which is ridiculously awesome.

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As you downward dog, you see the layers of colors in the sky—peaches and pinks and blues. As the sky gets darker, the sliver of the moon illuminates its own corner of the universe, looking for attention.

And as the sky blue morphs into midnight blue, you look behind you to see what this group of yogis looks like in the dark. You see circles of blue, from each person’s headphones glowing around their ears.  Nothing you see in that moment has ever been more cool.

This was my Sunday.

As I lay down on my mat, the class winding down, one hand on my belly and the other on my heart, I opened my eyes and took in what was above me. The stars were peeking out from the darkening sky. A flock of birds circled and played overhead, as if they were blessing us with their joy.

As Elena spoke some final thoughts, she asked us to be present. She asked the question, how do we feel when we’re connected, when we’re in the flow? Joy, was her answer. Joy, connection, relief (relief? My quiet brain played with the word. And then, such sweet surrender in the ahhhhh, yes, this is how it should be)—that’s how you know when you are home.

I wish this for all of you.

xo, with goodness and grace.

 

 

 

Words are lyrical for me.  They carry deep meaning and wrap their way into my soul and become intertwined with every fiber within me.

The poem Spring Giddiness came to me this week, and it was like it was speaking directly to me, especially this first part:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

— Rumi

Let the beauty we love be what we do. 

It’s a beautiful way to live a life, isn’t it?

I hope poetry finds you this week.

xo, with goodness and grace.

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